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Preparing for Persecution (Part 5)

Wednesday, September 14, 2022 @ 10:34 AM Preparing for Persecution (Part 5) Matthew White The Stand Writer MORE

I wanted to round out my blog series about persecution by discussing The Resolve Amidst Persecution.

To understand the early believers' resolve we first needed to understand the contempt that was held against them, thus I wrote about The Court’s Contempt.

I’d like to use these last two blogs in this series to discuss The Believer’s Boldness.

I want to make five considerations – two in this blog, and three in the final.

Notice their boldness in:

  1. The Position They Announced

But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. (20) For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard (Acts 4:19-20).

Peter and John were at a unique point in the life of the early church. They were at what could rightly be described as a crossroads.

They had orders from the governing body over them, the Sanhedrin, to no longer speak the name of Jesus.

At the same time, they had orders from Jesus, to go into the world and make disciples.

How does one respond when government orders and God’s commands are at odds with one another?

As believers, we must determine which court is higher.

The apostles provide us with a good example.

John MacArthur said,

“Had the apostles acquiesced to the Sanhedrin’s demand, all subsequent church history would have been radically different. Everything hinges on their willingness to obey God at all costs – even their lives.”

I do believe we should obey our government and authorities as much as possible, and I believe that is a principle supported by Scripture.

In fact, Peter would later write in 1 Peter 2:13-14 to:

Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, ...

Paul would tell the Roman believers to,

Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? Do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same (Romans 13:1-3).

Jesus taught the principle during His earthly ministry. When the Pharisees were trying to trip Him up over tribute money to Caesar, Jesus told them to

… Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's (Matthew 22:21).

Clearly, God ordained government to promote good and punish and deter evil. If a government functions properly, it is a benefit to society.

However, while it’s clear that God ordained government and we are to respect that government, it’s also clear that there is a limit to our obedience to man.

We are not commanded to a blind acquiescence. That too is clear from Scripture.

Recall the Hebrew midwives:

And the king of Egypt spake to the Hebrew midwives … And he said, When ye do the office of a midwife to the Hebrew women, and see [them] upon the stools; if it [be] a son, then ye shall kill him: but if it [be] a daughter, then she shall live (Exodus 1:15-16).

There was a clear command from a government ruler. And yet,

… the midwives feared God, and did not as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the men children alive (Exodus 1:17).

Remember the three Hebrew boys as well who, while in Babylonian captivity, refused to bow to the idol erected by King Nebuchadnezzar.

They were reported for their disobedience to the king’s ordinance, infuriating Nebuchadnezzar. He gave them one more chance to bow down, but warned if they didn’t,

… ye shall be cast the same hour into the midst of a burning fiery furnace… (Daniel 3:15).

Did they buckle under pressure, even at the risk of being burned to death? Not hardly.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, answered and said to the king, O Nebuchadnezzar, we [are] not careful to answer thee in this matter. If it be [so], our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver [us] out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up (Daniel 3:16-18).

And Daniel? He had found favor in the sight of the king, and there were some who were jealous conspiring against him, asking the king to sign a decree they knew Daniel would violate because of his faithfulness to God.

The king, unaware of their scheming, obliged their request. It changed nothing for Daniel, however.

Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house; and his windows being open in his chamber toward Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime (Daniel 6:10).

These are three very familiar examples where believers chose to obey God rather than man, despite potentially devastating consequences.

Fast-forward from those O.T. accounts all the way to the church in its infancy in Acts 4, and we see the first instance where the church is ordered to do something contrary to God’s command.

As a result, we see the first instance of the Christians’ civil disobedience.

They were at a crossroads. It was a question of authority. Obey the Sanhedrin or the Savior.

These early believers didn’t have to think long about their response.

John Phillips said,

“Peter very bluntly tossed the Sanhedrin’s mandate back in their faces. He told them to decide for themselves whether they had any moral or spiritual right before God to issue such a command – but in any case believers had no intention of obeying it.”

When told to be silent about Jesus, Peter and John responded by saying, “… we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20).

We should make note here, as in the aforementioned instances, the believers were firm, but respectful in their disobedience.

I must say that flies in the face of what my flesh would like to tell the government at times, but we are called on to die to self and follow the example of Christ.

That is what the apostles did here. They dug in their heels and announced they would obey God.

It is incumbent upon us as believers to prepare and purpose in our hearts how we are going to respond when faced with similar situations.

I would encourage you to open your eyes. We’ve seen unprecedented moves here in our own country in the past two years.

From forced church closures to forced vaccines, the pressure is ramping up.

From doctors in California being forced to participate in euthanasia practices, to nurses being forced to participate in abortion services, to teachers being forced to teach sick curricula about all forms of LGBTQ and sexual deviancy issues, and the list goes on.

May we make up our minds, determine in our hearts, and then pray for the courage to be bold like the apostles and make our stand should we be faced with similar situations.

  1. The Posture They Assumed

And when they heard that, they lifted up their voice to God with one accord, and said, Lord, thou [art] God, which hast made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is (Acts 4:24).

The Sanhedrin found themselves cornered. They hoped their threats would bluff the apostles into silence. They quickly realized that wasn’t going to happen. Furthermore, they realized they had no legitimate basis on which they could punish them.

They were not really worried about justice though. If they could have falsely charged them and had the support of the people, the way it happened with Christ, they would have happily done that.

But they didn’t have the support of the people yet, and in fact a fear of outrage from the people is one of the reasons they let them go.

They let them go … because of the people: for all [men] glorified God for that which was done (Acts 4:21).

It’s amazing to consider the first thing the apostles did upon being released.

And being let go, they went to their own company, and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said unto them (Acts 4:23).

They didn’t go hide. They didn’t seek asylum in some region that would be friendly to their message. They went immediately back to the body of believers and told them what had happened. 

And then, what is the posture they assumed?

They assumed a posture of praise.

And when they heard that, they lifted up their voice to God with one accord, and said, Lord, thou [art] God, which hast made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is (Acts 4:24).

Don’t you find it amazing that a threat from the authorities caused them to lift up their voice and praise God?

The church’s first persecution caused an amazing unity.

John MacArthur said,

“A primary benefit of persecution is that it results in greater solidarity. Persecuted believers naturally draw together for mutual support.”

MacArthur went on to say, “Perhaps one reason for the disunity in today’s church is the lack of external pressure.”

What an interesting response to persecution. They unified and praised God in the midst of it. And the words of their praise, give us an indication what they were praising God for.

They said, “Lord, thou [art] God, which hast made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is” (Acts 4:24).

Despite arrest, persecution, and threatenings, they were praising God for His sovereignty.

By pointing to His power over creation and all that exists, they are acknowledging the fact that He is aware of what they were facing, and that even their suffering was in His will.

They were verbalizing their confidence in His absolute control over all things. What an amazing perspective and insight they had.

I like what John Phillips said here:

“The Sanhedrin had power; God had almighty power. The Sanhedrin could threaten, but it could not go one step beyond the permissive will of a God who can create suns and stars, seas and shores. We have a God who holds in His hand all the forces of nature, all the factors of space, matter, and time, all the possibilities and eventualities in the universe. The threats of the Sanhedrin seemed rather weak compared with that – rather like a two-year-old with a plastic toy hammer threatening the village blacksmith.”

They had such boldness. Surely they were thinking, “If the God we serve is for us, what does it matter if any man stands against us.”

Praise God for the example the early believers set for us, and may we pray for the courage to follow in their steps.

May we boldly proclaim our position, and then assume a posture of praise to God, come what may.

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